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A breakfast burrito might sound a little healthy, with fillings like potatoes, avocados and even veggies in the form of peppers and onions.
But the Cheesecake Factory’s Breakfast Burrito is also loaded with bacon and sausage and delivers more than a whole day’s worth of calories and three days' worth of artery-clogging fat, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
“It’s like eating seven McDonald’s Sausage McMuffins,” the CSPI said.
The CSPI released its annual Xtreme Eating Awards on Wednesday — a not-so-tongue-in-cheek poke at some of the excesses Americans can find at fast-food joints, in restaurants and in movie theaters.
“These dishes go the extra mile ... just so more of us can start looking for extra-large-size apparel. Bravo!” the group says in its report.
“Many people may not realize that eating out almost always means overeating,” CSPI senior nutritionist Lindsay Moyer told NBC News.
“The Xtreme Eating Awards highlight some of the worst restaurant meals in America,” she added. “These are dishes that have oftentimes about 2,000 calories or more.”
The federal government and most health groups suggest that the average person eat 2,000 calories a day or less. One day’s sodium limit should be 2,300 milligrams, saturated fat should be kept to 20 grams or less and sugar intake should be kept to 50 grams or lower.
But even foods labeled as snacks can take people beyond those limits.
At the AMC movie chain, the Bavarian Legend Soft Pretzel "weighs in at a pound and a half of mostly white flour, with tubs of nacho ‘cheese’ and mustard for dipping,” the CSPI report reads.
“The 9-inch-wide pretzel has a day’s calories (1,920), three-quarters of a day’s saturated fat (15 grams), and more than three days’ worth of sodium (7,600 mg).”
Chili’s Honey-Chipotle Crispers and Waffles, the group says, doses restaurant patrons with more than a day’s worth of calories, two days’ worth of saturated fat and more than three days’ sodium allowance.
“This chicken and waffles on steroids is like eating five Krispy Kreme glazed doughnuts smothered in 30 McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets and five packets of barbecue sauce,” the group says.
The Cheesecake Factory pushed back, noting that people may be eating out as a special occasion. It says it also offers lower-calorie options.
“Many of our guests come in and want to celebrate and not be concerned with calories. Others want to share their dish — and we love it when guests share — that’s a great sign that our portions are generous – and a large percentage of our guests take home leftovers for lunch the next day,” the company said in a statement.
“For our calorie-conscious guests we have our award-winning SkinnyLicious Menu featuring nearly 50 delicious choices with 590 calories or less — which is actually larger than many restaurants' entire menus.”
Moyer advises people to always look for such lower-calorie menu choices.
“Restaurant portions almost everywhere are out of control. It's a good idea to either share a dish with someone else or take home half for later,” she said.
“That's why it's so important that calories are now listed on chain restaurant menus. When you go out to eat, look for the calories.”
Restaurants are just trying to look generous, Moyer said.
"The other thing I find is that restaurants pile all sorts of cheap ingredients on a plate to make it seem like a good value. It's often large portions of white flour and cheese. At the very least you can ask restaurants to use less cheese or leave it off entirely," she said.
And most Americans eat out regularly now, not just as a treat or to celebrate special occasions. This regular overeating is helping drive the obesity epidemic. Nearly three-quarters of Americans are overweight or obese.
“We pick on these extreme meals, but even many typical dishes in restaurants are a threat to Americans’ health because they raise the risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease,” Moyer said.
“We're at the point now where about 45 percent of American adults have pre-diabetes or diabetes.”